By Cathryn A. Freund, Erin G. Heaning, Imani R. Mulrain, Jesse B. McCann and Andrea L. DiGiorgio.
The use of social media by conservation agencies can be a double-edged sword. Social media allows conservation groups to spread their message widely and to extend fundraising efforts globally in a more accessible way. Social media posts, however, can be taken out of context – for example when orangutan rescue agencies interact with orphaned orangutans in an effort to rehabilitate them so that they can be released to the wild, this can be misconstrued by viewers as signaling that orangutans should be handled by humans, and even that they might make good pets. Conservation agencies, and specifically orangutan rescue and rehabilitation (ORR) agencies, are acutely aware of this danger and working to craft messaging that gains supporters and educates, but avoids these pitfalls. Our research looks at the sentiment of viewer comments to ORR YouTube posts to see whether human-orangutan interaction, orangutan age, and/or the mention of threats to orangutans impact how viewers comment on the video. Among our findings, we highlight that, while videos with more human-orangutan interaction time were viewed more, comments on them were more likely to be unproductive for orangutan conservation and negative about local people. Videos featuring young orangutans were also more likely to receive comments that were unproductive for orangutan conservation. We use our findings to make suggestions for future conservation messaging.